The Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been rolling through March like they usually do under coach Dan Bylsma, as they are 6-6-2 since the Olympic break with a home matchup against the Los Angeles Kings looming Thursday night.
But is that enough to cost Bylsma his job?
Sports Illustrated hockey writer Allen Muir didn’t make a judgement one way or another in a recent blog post, but he did write that he’s hearing “rumors that Pittsburgh may consider a coaching change before the playoffs.”
Although Bylsma was under fire last spring after the Penguins’ dispiriting four-game loss to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final, this is the first time this season that anything like this has come up in the hockey media.
Pittsburgh is 46-21-5 overall, good for first place in the lackluster Metropolitan Division by 11 points. It’s nearly assured the Pens will be a No. 2 seed in the East for the upcoming playoffs.
While the Penguins’ play has tapered off in the past couple months, widespread injuries are at least partially to blame for the downturn. The team continues to play without top defensemen Paul Martin and Kris Letang, while star center Evgeni Malkin just went down with a small fracture in his foot.
One potential reason for the Bylsma rumors? There are two former NHL head coaches on the Penguins staff in Jacques Martin and Tony Granato.
Martin in particular would be a logical choice to take over, since the 61-year-old has coached 1,294 NHL games for four teams. While he’s never won a Stanley Cup, his teams have made the postseason 12 times in 17 seasons. Granato, 49, has coached 215 games across a pair of stints with the Avalanche, most recently in 2008-09.
Bylsma memorably guided the Penguins to their third Stanley Cup title in 2009 after taking over in mid-February of that year. Pittsburgh has posted a .672 winning percentage under the 43-year-old Michigan native, although Bylsma has yet to orchestrate a return to the Cup Final since his initial triumph.
Late coaching changes are rare, but they have been done in the NHL. The Penguins have 10 games to go before the playoffs begin.